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Mountain Living Update Extra:
Snowmobiling at Arrowhead

While I'm fortunate enough to live the in the Gunnison Basin year-round, getting to Arrowhead for a day of visiting and adventure happens less often than it should and is a high-point of any season for me.  This year’s early January visit was no exception.  The snow was excellent, the company was top-notch and the adventure went on even after the sun went down. 

Big Winter in the Gunnison Country
The entire Gunnison Basin is blanketed with as much snow as I've seen here since my arrival in the early 90s.  That in itself is impressive, but when you take into account that the entire Western Slope has more snow than a lot of folks can remember seeing in the area--that's really impressive.  I hadn't been west of Gunnison on Highway 50 since October, but seeing the sage country under so much snow just made me grin.  There were almost no signs of the picnic tables at the Stevens Creek campground along Blue Mesa Reservoir and the number of deer crowded in along 50, wading through the snow and foraging for food was surprising.  I've since heard reports of mountain lion sightings along the highway, as the big cats have evidently given up the luxury of good cover to take advantage of prey being bogged down in the deep snow. 

Steam rising off of Blue Mesa Reservoir near the Dillon Pinnacles on a frigid morning.

Much of Blue Mesa Reservoir was iced over from the recent cold snap the area had seen (lows in the 40 below zero around Gunnison weren't uncommon), but from the Dillon Pinnacles to the dam, the water was open and creating immense amounts of fog over the water and, in places, along the highway.  Continuing west past the dam, the visible sage and trees were fantastically frosted and sparkling in the morning light as I drove by. 

The Alpine Road--in good shape with the snowbanks knocked back.

Turning off the highway on to the Alpine Road, I found the little canyon stuffed with snow, but the road plowed well, with the snow banks knocked back about as far as they could be.  The amount of snow coating the terrain along the road continued to impress me.  I imagined that if I were to step off the road, I would instantly be up to my waist, with my feet not necessarily touching the ground.  By the time I pulled into the parking area, I was ready to get out and have some fun in the snow!

Snow piled up high on out-buildings near the fire station.

Father Winter making art of the of the Arrowhead street signs.

Sunlight sparkling off a frosted aspen grove.

Evergreens stuff full of snow.

The group meeting at a snowed-in and rather quiet-looking Arrowhead Inn. Bruce, Eric, Kevin, Gary and Joanie were ready to ride.

Let's Ride!
I enjoy a variety of different activities in the Gunnison area and at Arrowhead.  This day, however, I had left the Nordic skis at home and grabbed the big gloves and helmet, because we were going snowmobiling!  While I haven't been able to make room in my quiver of toys for a snow machine, I’m lucky enough to have friends at Arrowhead who are so gracious that they share their sleds when we can get together.  After getting all suited up, we met a small group of riders at the Inn.  From there, under bright blue skies, with temps in the teens, we headed south to see if we could find any decent snow.  We weren't disappointed . . .

Oh, the snow . . . meadow after meadow's worth of untracked . . .

Bruce, enjoying another pleasant winter day in the country around Arrowhead.

Kevin doing his comet impression and getting ready to test his suspension on the landing . . .

Bruce, Kevin (with his back to us), Eric "Chainsaw" Johnson and Gary all taking a break. Yes, that's steam pluming off of Eric . . . the guy likes to play hard.

Speaking of playing hard, these are shots of "Chainsaw" Johnson catching some air (above) and then getting all artistic with his powder "poof" of a landing (below).


Deciding which way to go . . . despite the day drawing on, we were having enough fun so that I didn't hear anyone claiming that they needed to get back anytime soon.
Or maybe it was just me . . .

Kevin letting his Arctic Cat dine at the "all you can eat" untracked snow buffet.

I'm not sure of the names of the places we visited, but we rode untracked snow all day.  How good was it?  I love to downhill ski, both at ski areas and in the back country.  And of course I love skiing powder.  While this winter has been huge for the area around Crested Butte where I put in just about all of my turns (the skiing has been fabulous over the past couple of months), I picked up more face shots in a few hours of riding south of Arrowhead than I had all season on my skis.  We enjoyed meadow after meadow and area after area of great riding . . . even Willow Park had very few tracks through it. 

Bruce flirting with the shadows along another untracked meadow.

Eric blowing through the powder.

The snow had developed a supportive layer about a foot underneath the surface so that it wasn't bottomless, either.  The layer wouldn’t quite let me walk on it, but I found I could crawl on it get back to my machine if/when it left me behind.  Three o'clock rolled around and I realized that I had only been stuck once for the day.  What a great day of riding, I marveled to myself.  I could tell I was nearing the end of being able to hang on to the sled in the powder, but I knew I certainly had enough energy to have fun riding back to Arrowhead. 

Loss of Momentum
Our group decided that we'd take one more shortcut on the way back . . . all the “short cuts” up to this point had been fun, so I was certainly game for one more.  This shortcut dropped our group into a little valley with a streambed wandering through the bottom of it.  Our route was a noticeable downhill going in with a bit of a climb going out.  The climb out had to be side-hilled though, and before I was into the climb I noticed that we had our first rider who didn't make the hill (when he realized he was in trouble and heading for the stream bottom, he bailed from his sled and let it go riderless to prevent it from getting stuck).  Another rider or two were going into "hesitation" mode. 

How stuck, you ask? We had to get three or four machines unstuck before we could even begin to tackle the results of Kevin's questionable parking place. But I guess we've all been there, huh? Notice how the sun's already down and we still have some work to do.

These events began what turned into more than an hour and a half of being stuck in that little valley, having to dig out one sled after another, only to turn around and find that another sled in the group had become stuck.  The snow in the little valley was softer than what we'd been in most of the day and the way the terrain and the trees laid out, we were prevented from an overly easy exit, and we found ourselves stuck and stuck again.  And then some of us were getting stuck during and after pulling other machines out.  While we started making promises to each other that we wouldn’t get stuck any more, I paused for a bite to eat, then got back to stomping down snow and yanking on skis. 

Even Gary's XP had to be rescued. First we had to get the stuck Arctic Cat out of the way, though.

At this point, we had to pull out this sled once more, I think I got stuck again and Eric, who, in pulling out Kevin's sled, was stuck at least three or four more times.

By the time we had the last snow machine on to a packed track and ready to go, I was whupped.  But I had dressed appropriately and brought enough food and water, so that even with the quickly fading dusk closing in on us, I could still shake my head and grin at all. 

It had been a great day of riding. 

Our "stuckfest" had been only a couple of hundred yards from a main and well-traveled route.  With all sleds back on firm trail, we headed north through the miles of whoop-t-doos for Arrowhead.  While I had to stop once and pull my face mask up to ward off the plummeting temps, we were back indoors within the half-hour. 

Thanks to Bruce, Eric, Kevin, Joanie and Gary for being patient with me and my shutterbug action . . . I'll get some photos to you, soon.

Someday . . .
When my little family grows up and we’re not so attached to easy access to schools and a kiddie social life for the tricycle motor, maybe we'll build on our lot at Arrowhead.  That's probably several years off, though.  Until then, I'll continue to be indebted to our good friends, Bruce and Marian McGoldrick for their unending generosity, making mine and my family’s visits (especially the winter ones) possible, memorable and so enjoyable. 

An After word:
I knew that our little snowmobiling venture was an excellent day, for certain.  But writing this from an only marginally-comfortable position, with one leg propped up on my desk so that my knee is smothered by an ice pack after having torn it up playing hockey, it's becoming apparent that our day of sledding will probably have been my highpoint of the winter.  So thank you to the group of riders who were kind enough to let me tag along and thanks, especially to Bruce and Marian, who made it all possible. 

As for the rest of you Arrowhead folks who have stumbled across this page, have a really good winter out there!  It’s snowing again as I write this, so enjoy.  Take care.   

Why not share photos and words from your Arrowhead winter adventures? It doesn't have to be as long-winded and full of photos as what I wrote and posted, but send it in to Cheri via the link below . . . your friends, neighbors and those who don't get to Arrowhead much in the winter will certainly enjoy it. --Robb

Mountain Living & Photo Update Archive

Please contact Cheri Ratliff if you have current information or photos that would look good on the web site!. Sample: bear sightings, road conditions, community happenings, Happy Birthdays, Arrowhead owners having fun, etc.